Malnutrition has been a thorn in the flesh for humanity from time immemorial. And, the consumption of leafy vegetables such as amaranth has been used by various countries in the world to counter starvation and undernourishment.
It is against this background that in Tanzania, the Tanzania Agriculture Research Institute (TARI), through the Amazing Amaranth Project, has been promoting the production and consumption of amaranth, popularly known as Mchicha in Kiswahili, to reduce malnutrition in the country.
And recently, a two-day training for farmers, amaranth processors and agricultural experts was conducted at Malolo Agricultural Resource Centre, Kinondoni District in Dar es Salaam. The training involved 52 participants from Temeke, Bagamoyo, Kinondoni, Ubungo , Kigamboni and Ilala.
The objective of this training was to impart knowledge and skills to participants on production, utilization and marketing of amaranth and amaranth products. By the end of the training participants are expected to apply good agricultural practices (GAP) in amaranth production in the field, market amaranth and amaranth products more profitably and to prepare and cook amaranth using nutritionally improved recipes that retain nutrients and hence improve health of consumers.
The Coordinator of the Amazing Amaranth Project, Dr Ruth Minja told participants that the project aims to develop hardy and nutritious amaranth lines and food practices to improve nutrition in East Africa. “In collaboration with the World Vegetable Centre TARI have already released five (5) improved varieties (Madiira 1, Madiira 2, Nguruma, Akeri and Poli) for our farmers.
Under the Amazing Amaranth project these improved varieties are promoted while three (3) more new varieties have been submitted to TOSCI as a procedure for official release. We are now focusing on educating farmers and various stakeholders in the value chain to adopt the varieties and utilize them effectively”. She said that increased production and consumption of leafy vegetables in particular, can make an important contribution to improved nutrition.
Amaranth can be consumed as a green vegetable or grain. The crop is easy to grow, heat-drought-and-salt tolerant, and less affected by pest and diseases. “The grain is protein-rich (16 per cent), with balanced amino acid content. The leaves are high in micronutrients, including vitamin C, provitamin A, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and phosphorus,” she said.
The four-year Amazing Amaranth Project, which started in 2018 to 2021, is expected to benefit thousands of farmers and other stakeholders in the value chain across Tanzania. The project is funded by the German Government through BMZ and The World Vegetable Center. It is implemented in Kenya and Tanzania where it covers the regions of Dar es Salaam, Coast, Kilimanjaro, Arusha, Mwanza, Iringa, and Dodoma.
She further said that in Tanzania, amaranth constitutes about 5.3 per cent of total vegetables planted annually. The vegetable is cultivated in all regions of the country. The TARI Mikocheni Manager, Dr Zuberi Bira, while addressing the same gathering, said amaranth is among important vegetables in Tanzania that is highly nutritious, pointing out that many households rely on it. He went on to advise participants to promote cultivation of amaranth as it takes a short growth cycle and has a huge market throughout the country.
“Our main aim as researchers is to ensure farmers, consumers and other stakeholders in the value chain have access to improved amaranth varieties, to increase production and nutrition of consumers the Centre Manager explained. He called upon participants to ensure that they spread the knowledge they acquired to other stakeholders.
A farmer from Ubungo District in Dar es Salaam Region, Sebastian Buzwezwe, encouraged fellow participants to use the knowledge and techniques acquired during the training to ensure other farmers benefit from the improved amaranth varieties. “We should implement best amaranth farming practices through using the correct spacing and improved varieties to increase production and income. “I am an amaranth farmer for five years now.
And, since I started practising new methods of amaranth farming under the support from TARI Mikocheni and Kinondoni Municipal , my production and income have increased helping me to take care of my family needs,” he said.
He also advised fellow farmers not to apply pesticides, but instead use improved varieties that are disease tolerant. The Agriculture Extension Officer for Kinondoni, Mr Salehe Hija, said: “Farmers should use improved varieties to boost production. And, as agricultural experts in the district, we will ensure that all farmers are well educated on how to use the varieties.”
A Nutritionist from the World Vegetable Centre Arusha, Dr. Dyness Kejo said that every vegetable has its own nutrients for the human body, adding that their main aim is to ensure Tanzanian farmers access improved varieties for consumers to get those nutrients. The promotion of these vegetables has led to a rise in demand, particularly in urban areas, which has created opportunities for local smallholder farmers to improve their income and family nutrition.
She said that in Tanzania, the availability of improved amaranth varieties together with increasing consumer demand for the crop, have given private seed companies the incentive to include amaranth in their seed catalogues. “Seed companies in Kenya and Tanzania produced 2.9 tonnes of amaranth seeds in 2016 with eight out of nine varieties based on WorldVeg breeding research,” she said.
Ms Winnie Nyonje a nutritionist from the World Vegetable Centre in Arusha Region said that there are different types of amaranth cooking recipes. “Each one has a different taste. We encourage people and amaranth stakeholders to learn different amaranth recipes. This will help to improve eating habits. Amaranth contains high micronutrients, including vitamin C, provitamin A, calcium, magnesium, potassium, iron and phosphorus,” she added.
During the training ten improved recipes were demonstrated to participants. Amaranth (Amaranthus spp.) originated from Central America and was introduced to Africa in the 20th century. There are over 60 amaranth species globally. TARI Director General, Dr Geofrey Mkamilo said over the years, TARI has developed a number of improved varieties and educated farmers on the safe use and handling of pesticides, in a bid to help them stick to modern farming practices to increase their incomes, while overcoming climate change challenges.
Agriculture plays a critical role in the economy and livelihoods. Tanzania has over 44 million hectares of arable land, with only 33 per cent under cultivation and about 65 per cent of Tanzania’s population depends on agriculture for food, income, health, employment and raw materials for agro-processing industries.